Rheumatoid arthritis: a disease of T-lymphocyte/macrophage immunoregulation

Lancet. 1981 Oct 17;2(8251):839-42. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(81)91107-7.


In rheumatoid arthritis the synovial membrane has many of the characteristics of a hyperactive, immunologically-stimulated lymphoid organ. The basis of this hyperactivity is poorly understood. Highly specific antisera to human Ia-like (HLA-DR) antigens and monoclonal antibodies (OKT series) to various T-lymphocyte subsets were used to analyse both the normal and the rheumatoid synovium and to compare it with normal lymph nodes. In rheumatoid arthritis the synovium acquires an infiltrate with microanatomical similarities to the paracortical area of the lymph node. Large, very strongly HLA-DR-positive macrophage-like interdigitating cells form close contacts with the OKT4+ (inducer-type) T-cells, while the OKT8+ population (T-cells of suppressor-cytotoxic type) between the macrophage-OKT4+ cell clusters is scanty (T4/T8 ratio = 9:1). By contrast, in the lymph node there are more OKT8 T-cells interspersed between the HLA-DR+ interdigitating cells and OKT4+ cells (T4/T8 ratio = 2:1). The large interdigitating cells and the OKT4+ T-cell population may be mutually stimulatory. In the absence of efficient suppression this stimulation may lead to activation of B-lymphocytes and oligoclonal or polyclonal immunoglobulin synthesis, as is found in the synovial membrane in rheumatoid arthritis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / immunology
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Cooperation
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Rheumatoid Factor / biosynthesis
  • Synovial Membrane / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Rheumatoid Factor